Clemson University graduate student Pablo Sauras-Perez hopes ParkinGain will help drivers find the best parking spots based on their own preferences and allow them to feed the meter without going back to their cars.

While still in the conceptual phase, Pablo Sauras-Perez’s app, ParkinGain, aims to help drivers find the best parking spots and would allow them to feed the meter without going back to their cars.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Smart phones and tablets have been able to connect to the Internet for years, but the next-generation mobile device could have four wheels and be parked in your driveway.

Two Clemson University researchers are working on new applications for “connected cars” as automakers begin producing more vehicles that can go online while on the road.

Pablo Sauras-Perez hopes ParkinGain will help drivers find the best parking spots based on their own preferences and allow them to feed the meter without going back to their cars.

Andrea Gil is working on a shopping application, Ready2Pick, that would allow drivers to keep traveling down the road as they order fast-food and groceries from businesses with drive-through service.

While both applications are just beginning to move out of the conceptual phase, they have a good start. Sauras-Perez and Gil submitted their ideas to the Global Connected Car Contest 2013, and they won two of the six categories. The contest is sponsored by Chevrolet and German software giant, SAP.

“It was an international contest with submissions from all over the world,” Gil said. “It means we’re doing something right.”

Winning the contest set up the Ph.D. students to travel to Palo Alto in Silicon Valley to meet with industry experts and start work on prototypes.

Joachim Taiber, a research professor who guided the students, said the ideas struck the right balance with their business models, market opportunities and technology. The trip to Palo Alto gave Sauras-Perez and Gil an opportunity to introduce their ideas to a larger team, including companies that could turn the concepts into reality, he said.

Sauras-Perez is in automotive engineering, while Gil is in electrical engineering. Both are graduate research assistants who do most of their work at Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR).

“Andrea and Pablo are off to a terrific start,” said Imtiaz Haque, executive director of the Carroll A. Campbell Graduate Engineering Center at CU-ICAR.

“Their apps serve as excellent examples of the high-quality work students are doing at the Campbell Center.”

Sauras-Perez said ParkinGain would help drivers find a spot based on location, travel time and how far they would have to walk to their ultimate destination. The application would make parking cheaper, more convenient and less time-consuming for drivers while increasing business for parking companies, he said.

Once parked, drivers would receive a message when their time is expired and have a chance to renew without going back to a meter to plug quarters into a slot.

Also key to Sauras-Perez’s plan is the promise of “dynamic pricing.” His hope is that changing the price of parking according to traffic conditions would spread out cars more evenly to keep lanes flowing more smoothly. Sauras-Perez said users would be faced with a choice: “‘Do I want to pay more to park in front of the place I’m going to? Do I want to pay less and walk five minutes?”

The app could reduce traffic congestion and emissions, Sauras-Perez said. Drivers looking for parking cause an average of 30 percent of downtown traffic in cities, according to Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Sauras-Perez also sees the possibility of restaurants and shops offering digital coupons when drivers park close by.

The app could be used in a car, smart phone or global positioning system, Sauras-Perez said. He envisions launches in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. The business would be supported by a participation fee paid by on-street and parking garage companies, and shops and restaurants.

ParkinGain won in the contest’s parking category, while Ready2Pick won the food category. Sauras-Perez and Gil said their applications could be ready for market in one to three years.

Frederick Cartwright, executive director of CU-ICAR, said industry and consumers are looking for “smarter mobility solutions.”

Clemson University graduate student Andrea Gil is working on a shopping application, Ready2Pick, that would allow drivers to keep traveling down the road as they order fast-food and groceries from businesses with drive-through service.

Andrea Gill’s app would allow drivers to order fast-food and groceries from businesses with drive-through service.
Image Credit: Rod Searcey

“Projects such as these reinforce CU-ICAR’s global reputation as a source of such innovation for the automotive and transportation markets,” he said. Gil said that Ready2Pick is envisioned as a way for drivers and passengers to use their time while idling in traffic.

It would suggest restaurants and stores close to users based on their preferences. Drivers could place an order with a voice- or touch-control, or a passenger could use a mobile device or in-car display, she said.

The application focuses on food and groceries because the drive-through infrastructure is already in place, but it could later be broadened to include any kind of service, Gil said.

Ready2Pick would also show estimated wait times at drive-throughs and routes to restaurants and stores. It would notify drivers about sales in the area, providing digital coupons that could be used immediately or later, Gil said.

Ads played on the radio would match driver preferences, she said. When drivers hear something they like, they would be able to click the dashboard to share on social media or a have a coupon downloaded to a phone, Gil said.

“From the moment a car is connected to the Internet, you are opening a new marketing channel for location-based services,” she said. “This will help to broaden the reach of behavioral advertising. When you are connected to the Internet, you become more aware of your surroundings and can exchange information with it.”

The main source of revenue would come from a transaction fee paid by companies that want to use Ready2Pick for advertising, Gil said.

The work Sauras-Perez and Gil are doing underscores the emphasis that they and others at CU-ICAR put on research that has clear practical value with high hopes of becoming products that drive the economy, while making lives better.

“You have to see the big picture,” Sauras-Perez said. “Technology is awesome, but you have to have business models to make its development sustainable.”